Letters

Readers, including a former POW, talk about their relationship with journalist Iris Chang.


Salon Staff
December 3, 2004 1:00PM (UTC)

[Read "How 'Iris Chang' Became a Verb," by Paula Kamen.]

I was navigator on a B-29 bomber (shot down over Tokyo on Jan. 27, 1945), was a prisoner of war in Kempei Tai torture prison in Tokyo, in a cage at Ueno Zoo, and finally in Omori prison camp. Those were very difficult days -- the nightmares became part of my life.

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Within the last year I received a phone call from Iris Chang. I was familiar with the name and "The Rape of Nanking." She explained she was doing "living histories" with American military personnel who were held as POWs in Japan during the Pacific war. We agreed on a time and place for the interview.

Chang impressed me immediately. She was well prepared for the interview, and I could clearly see her commitment to the project. She bore right into the subject with appropriate questions. We spent over four hours sitting in my dining room. I poured my heart out to her, telling her "the way it was" as a prisoner of Japan. It was my feeling her interest was genuine -- she had earned the right to probe and secure answers.

At the end of our session, she told me of a recent trip to Des Moines, Iowa, to interview a gentleman who had sat in on the war crimes testimony on Guam. The specific testimony focused on what happened to eight Navy pilots who were shot down during their bombing attack on the Island of Chichi Jima, north of Iwo Jima. She told me the testimony was too gruesome and she "just couldn't take it" and had broken off the interview.

She told me she later called James Bradley (author of "Flags of Our Fathers") and told him there was a story. He immediately flew to Des Moines. His book "Fly Boys" resulted from these interviews. I was with Bradley at a book signing in Menlo Park, Calif., earlier this year. He confirmed the call from Chang that triggered his visit to the Des Moines area and his book.

I went to Stanford within the last several months to hear Chang speak on subjects related to "The Rape of Nanking." We visited briefly after her presentation and just before she began signing books. I observed a difference in her -- a difference between how she seemed in our long interview at my home and the way she seemed as I walked her to her car that evening. A change in intensity is how I would best describe it.

I was interviewed by Joan Ryan of the San Francisco Chronicle for a story that ran on Nov. 11. Alongside that article was the story about Iris Chang. It seemed like a sad coincidence: Here we were, side by side, once again.

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I admired Iris Chang. She dedicated herself to accomplishing specific goals. In the end, perhaps her dedication and interview experiences with individuals wronged as prisoners of war became an overpowering burden.

She was a very special person.

-- Ray "Hap" Halloran

Thank you for publishing the recent eulogy for Iris Chang. I read about her death in the San Jose Mercury News the day after it was discovered. Although I haven't read any of her books, I continue to think about her and wonder why she died.

Her death amplified my feelings of futility about a country that reelects a government responsible for the torture in Abu Ghraib and where the Japanese internment camps are being debated again. These are strange times.

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The best way to know a writer is to read her books. I look forward to doing so. But I also appreciate knowing more about this driven person and her life.

-- Geoff Scott

Kamen's article on Chang neglects to mention that Chang was no impartial observer in what she wrote. "The Rape of Nanking," for instance, was heavily biased toward a Chinese interpretation of events during the Japanese occupation of China. "Thread of the Silkworm" and her recent "The Chinese in America" similarly are both highly ethnic-centric books. Kamen, instead of lauding Chang as some sort of muse, should have critiqued Chang's penchant for distorting history.

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-- Brock Bevan

It's difficult to think about Chang's death outside of the context of the United States' latest, ugliest dalliance with Holocaust denial, the Swift boat ads. The unmistakable, unremarked-upon message of John O'Neill and his thugs was to punish the brave men who had come home and told the truth about America's own mini-Nankings. The Swift boat ads seem to escape the notice of post-election review, even that which is sympathetic to John Kerry. Was this depressing Chang? I don't know, but it depresses the hell out of me.

-- Greg Wall

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What an incredibly moving piece by Paula Kamen. She had in me tears about a person I'd never heard of before, though I remember when "The Rape of Nanking" was published and the excitement and controversy it stirred. Kudos to Kamen for such a stirring portrait of Iris Chang.

-- Patrick M. Finn

I first became aware of the extent of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the late 1990s. Some people believe that "The Rape of Nanking" was the road map for the Serbs' ethnic cleansing. In 1937, the Japanese military in China was faced with a problem: They had to control a huge number of civilians with a small number of soldiers. Their solution was to brutally slaughter a large percentage of the population of Nanking in order to terrorize all the Chinese civilians. There was a military logic to the atrocities. Similarly, the Serbs sought to drive out the Bosnian Muslims and the Kosovo Albanians from their native homes. They sought to remove an entire ethnic group from an entire nation-state. To do this, they also terrorized the civilian population. There was a military logic for the Serbs too. As was the case with Nanking, the world's opposition to the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo was weak and belated.

-- Tom Dorman

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